The life of an entrepreneur can be very different from that of someone with a more traditional career. For most people, the line between work and personal life ranges from sharply defined (often by a clock) to being somewhat fuzzy, depending on the work. For entrepreneurs, however, there’s almost no line at all. Being prepared for this unique situation is crucial not only to the stability of your personal life, but to the success of your business.
For the exact same reasons you wouldn’t launch a company without a business plan, it would be folly to launch one without knowing how to integrate that business into your life in a positive way. This means approaching your personal life with the same mindfulness and forethought you apply to your work. It means making sure that you’re mentally and emotionally equipped for the challenge. It means taking the time, and the effort, to tend two gardens.
When you first go into business independently, it can seem overwhelming. It is overwhelming. The entirety of the responsibility is on you. Most people never experience that kind of power over their own destiny, and it can be a little much. It can tempt a person to sacrifice more than is healthy in order to ensure the best outcome. Worst of all for loved ones, it can make you not just stressed, but absent.
Sacrificing your personal life for your business, no matter how successful it becomes, constitutes a net loss. You chose entrepreneurship for the freedom it offers, the freedom to build a life of your choosing. Enslaving yourself to your work is the opposite of freedom, and worse, it can cost you the relationships that make life worth living. A concentrated effort has to be made to avoid paying too high a price for “success,” if you can even use that term to describe something that detracts from your overall happiness.
I think the best way to do this is not to try to separate work from life, but to integrate them as much as possible. I have a special advantage in this regard: my business partner also happens to be my partner in life, which means that what pulls me toward business doesn’t always pull me away from her. It’s a nice situation, but it’s a fairly uncommon one. Most will have to find a way to keep the two worlds from drifting apart- and keep one from devouring the other.
The first step is to keep your loved ones “in the loop.” Rather than trying to compartmentalize, invite them to share in your journey. The truth is that they’re on it with you no matter what, so trying to shield them from it is futile. Talk to them. Share the experience with them. Tell them what’s going on, and solicit their opinions and insights, even if they’re not experts in your field. Trust them with intimate knowledge of your daily struggles.
This isn’t being whiny or simply “venting.” This is asking someone to share the emotional burden of entrepreneurship with you- not because you want to burden them, but because it brings (and keeps) you closer. As much as possible, make your business something you experience together.
It’s also important to put that burden down from time to time. Working endlessly without breaks or rest may fulfill someone’s idea of being hardworking and motivated, but it’s a sure bet that that someone lacks a healthy personal life. From my perspective, workaholism isn’t a mark of greater professionalism, or the point of pride some seem to think it is. It’s a slippery slope that can be as destructive as other compulsive “isms” that quickly become their own purpose while everything else falls apart.
While it may be impossible to completely cut yourself off from emergencies or other unexpected situations, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that you can make time for yourself that doesn’t involve work. These can be weekends, vacations, or certain hours of the day; in fact, it should be all of those. There’s no amount of work you can do in your downtime that will be worth the long-term cost to your health and relationships. It may seem in a given moment that doing that extra hour or extra week’s worth will be worth it, but a driver whose foot is permanently on the throttle will eventually crash.
Talking about work and taking time off may seem like obvious steps, but as is so often the case, it’s the execution people struggle with. Being communicative and fostering your relationships doesn’t come naturally to everyone, myself included. Balancing work and life isn’t something you can do on the fly. It’s something you choose to do, actively, or choose passively to let fall by the wayside.
Success Through Preparation
To ensure a healthy work/life balance, there are steps you can and should take early on to lay the groundwork. The first is to “sell” your lifestyle choice to the people in your life. This is especially crucial at the beginning. In the same way you have to establish credibility and sincerity with customers, it’s your job to make your loved ones understand why you’re taking this path, how it will benefit all concerned, and what they can expect.
Just as you’d pitch a money-making idea to investors, you’ve got to justify the emotional investment required of your family and friends. Anything else would be frankly unfair. Doing this is also invaluable to you; it can help you to articulate your own motivations, goals, and put your idea in the context of the bigger picture. If you can’t justify your choice to your family, you probably haven’t fully justified it to yourself.
Next, schedule your personal life with the same forethought and care that you would your business. Reserve equally important places in your calendar for personal obligations (anniversaries, parties, unbearable high-school theater productions) as for meetings and product development. For this, I highly recommend using Google calendar, which allows you to not only keep integrated business and personal calendars, but can also allow you to mutually share your calendar with loved ones to avoid conflicts.
Good for Life = Good for Business
Doing what’s necessary to maintain a healthy personal life isn’t something that comes at a cost to your business. It helps your business succeed. A balanced, healthy, happy person does a far better job of running a business in the long term than an overworked, unhappy crank. Keeping emotionally fit is just as much a requirement as keeping abreast of industry trends or staying proficient in tech. It’s just as important to meditate or take your fiancé to dinner as it is to produce content or analyze revenue.
By seeing a healthy personal life as a component of your business, you can more easily discard the backward notion that spending time and energy on yourself is somehow counterproductive to your work. Ensuring a good balance between work and everything else is not only a smart move, it’s key to any healthy definition of success. No, money can’t buy happiness, but it sure doesn’t hurt- unless you let it.